Sunday, May 20, 2012

Trinity High School Class of 2012: This is for you

"Where do I get one?"  "Is that for me?"

I'll get to explaining the above in a little bit, don't worry.  Last night I went to Baccalaureate mass for the 2012 Trinity High School graduating class. This senior class is the class that I have claimed, more than any other, as "my boys." This class is the only reason I considered staying in Louisville when I was preparing for the year I've just finished.

I'm glad I didn't stay, not because I wouldn't have loved to have been with them for their successes and struggles (though the successes seemed to outnumber the struggles); I would have treasured that. I'm glad I didn't stay, because, honestly, they didn't need me. I say this in a proud mama sort of way. The lessons I tried to teach them when they were in my classes, the heart lessons, the most important lessons, seemed to stick... or maybe they already knew them all and just learned to practice them better.  Who's to say?  My point is that I don't think I could have offered them any more than I already had.  It seems that these guys had it pretty well together.  From everything I've seen from them and heard about them, they did a pretty fine job of taking care of each other, of living out the school year's theme, "Together as One." In fact, the school president even described them as "the best" last night, a compliment I hope they didn't take lightly.

I taught many of these young men as both sophomores and juniors and in those two years, I saw so much growing up happen.  I also witnessed their coming together process develop.  The death of one of their own sophomore year certainly bonded them.  Amazing how grief can bring people together.  Good blossoms out of the hardship, the dirt, the muck, that we live...

I taught Catholic Social Teaching (CST) to one hundred thirty or so of this class their junior year. CST is one of my favorite classes to teach because we get to dig into complex social issues, learn about them from an "insider's perspective", discuss them, write about them, and, in many cases, be changed by the process.  I asked the boys to write a lot for me, something many were not used to doing.  In their journals, I asked them be honest with me and with themselves.  It wouldn't do them or anyone else any good if they spewed what they thought I wanted to read.  In their journals, I didn't grade them for content, so that they would truly feel free to be honest.  Sometimes I wrote back to them as much as they wrote to me, but their grades never suffered because they disagreed with what I was teaching.  They trusted me and they were honest.  Sometimes I think they surprised themselves as the words they wrote poured forth freely, words they didn't even know were there or theirs until they were written down.

I asked them to be open to new ideas and new people. They were. They read essays by and about prisoners, immigrants, abused women, homeless people, gang members, and, eventually, even their own classmates... And as they read, they paid attention.  They were open to the notion that these people, the ones they may not have thought much about before, had something to say to them, had something to teach them, had more in common with them than they may have ever considered.  And my boys, they learned.  They opened their minds.  More importantly, they opened their hearts.  How amazing it was for me to witness this happening and to think that I may have played even a small role in that opening.

As we studied various social issues, we read Freedom Writers Diary, a collection of diary entries written by teens in east Los Angeles that gives a teenage perspective on just about any social issue you can think of. We then created our own collection of writing and even had it published, thanks to the generosity of Bill Fust, a Trinity alumnus.  We didn't finish putting the collection together until late in the summer and I got my copy of the book only hours before I boarded my plane to set off for India.  Let me say, while acknowledging that I am just a wee bit biased when I write this, that the book they created turned out pretty awesome.  They submitted pieces that were heartfelt and honest, that showed their growth or the growth process.  A group of them worked during the summer to put everything together. They did an outstanding job.  Again, a proud mama moment.  Some of the sisters in India read the book.  Some of the folks at Project Hope read it.  They, like my students, had some revelations, some discoveries that life "over there" isn't quite what they imagined it to be.  Through their honest writing, my students became teachers.  We never know whose or how many lives we touch...

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, many of the boys didn't get their book copies and the books sat in boxes for most of the school year.  I arrived in Louisville on Thursday and Friday went to Trinity for senior awards day.  I got a box of the books, so that I could try to pass them out to as many guys as possible over the weekend.  Last night I handed out 40.  Today as the young men walked out of their graduation, I handed out 25 more.  I'll try to track down the rest so they have their copies, too.

Some students had forgotten about the project, some were so grateful to finally have a copy in their hands.  I think all were impressed by the professional look of the book (with good reason).  They had in their hands a real bound book that they helped to create. As I put them in their hands and asked, "Do you have one of these yet?" and they answered, "No," they asked how to get a copy and/or looked in awe as I told them the very one in their hands was theirs.  "Really?  This is for me? I don't have to pay for it?"  Nope, they were given to us.  The boys thanked me, but really, they were the ones who did the work... They deserve the thanks.

I watched my boys graduate today.  I think I had about two thirds of them in class at some point.  As their names were called and they walked across the stage, many thoughts crossed my mind... "Wow, I'm so proud he made it." "He's come such a long way." "What a great kid."  "I can't wait to see what he does."  "I'll really miss him."  "I hope he keeps in touch."

I don't know how many of the boys read this.  One told me he's been following it.  What an enormous compliment. Many probably don't even know this exists and that's OK.  Over the last few days, some of my boys, not just the ones I taught last year, have made a point to find me, give me a hug, thank me for a retreat letter, thank me in general, ask about my travels, tell me I was missed. It's humbling. It's affirming.  It's testament to their goodness, their thoughtfulness, their commitment to living right (or living the fourth, for those who know what that means).

And to share the my wealth of blessings, I want to acknowledge a few, even if they never see this...I'll stick to first names...yes, there will be some repeated names, but I'm talking to different people. Stephen- you told me about some of your God moments; in doing so, you gave me a God moment.  Ernie- you wrote me a wonderful message.  I can't thank you enough.  I think you've taught me at least as much as I taught you.  Danny- what you said to me meant so much.  Thank you.  Stephen- you thanked me for my service.  I think you matched or even surpassed my hours by serving in so many ways.  Elliott, Keaton, Anthony, Tyler, Will, Shane, Matt, Ben, Brendan, Chris, Luke, Riley, Louie- thanks for keeping in touch and checking in every once in awhile.  I hope you continue to do so as you move onto bigger and better.  Wilson- you told me you couldn't find the words to write a reply.  That's OK.  Seeing you was a joy, knowing that you care is enough even if the words are never put on paper.  Nate- I have thought of you often and am so happy to see you again.  I hope we'll connect before the summer's over. Blake- you about knocked me over with a hug and were one of the first to welcome me home.  Thanks for that.  Joey- the utter joy you showed in seeing me makes me smile even now.  Ricky- thanks for what you said to me.  It means a lot.  Will- thanks for thinking of someone else when you asked for a second book.  Nate- thanks for taking an interest in my trip.  Jonah- thanks for your affirmation.  It was good to see you.  Travis, Riley, and Tyler- wow, what a special addition to mass.  Jaime- love your honesty.  Max- look me up and we'll talk travel when you have the money, but let me say again, you don't need a lot of money to travel.  Will- I love that you are not taking the conventional path.  It shows you have a good handle on what works for you.  Brandon- you have a heart of gold and I am so glad I got to see into it, not only right before I left, but right when I got home.   Jordan and Scott- thanks for asking about my journey. Damon and Isaac- how cool is it to have seen you grow so much over so many years.

I'm sure if I continued to sit here, more and more...and more names and reasons to be grateful would spring to mind.  I hope no one will feel slighted by a name not being here.  But I think I will stop here and conclude with this:

Trinity High School Class of 2012- You are and forever will be my boys.  I'm proud of you and I love you.  Thanks for all you've done for me, for each other, and for the world.  Keep on livin' it.

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